Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Day 3 - reflections

SWIFT is always a busy week but thankfully it includes scheduled time for personal writing.  Following the daily log provided by Maria, I sit and enjoy the personal writing time and I scribble the blog for Day 2;  I am enjoying the looseness of blogging. 

After personal writing there is coffee and ridiculously good cookies; they have Smarties on top.

Over coffee I welcome Oona Frawley from the Maynooth University English Department who has very graciously agreed to join our group to talk about how she supports our student writers, how she contributes to the institutional conversation on writing and what it’s like to be a published author.

Oona is understated and apologies for her Birks; with this we all feel a little less intimidated by the fact that there is a *real* author in the room.  We have been performing ‘I am a writer’ since Monday; it is hard for us to make the statement, unapologetically.  Small wonder that our undergraduate students and postgraduates, including doctoral researchers, also find it difficult to declare themselves as writers.  Inasmuch as we endeavour to demystify and democratise writing, it seems to maintain an elusive quality as though what we do as writers, like this blogging, is somehow inadequate in comparison to the work of a real writer/author.  It isn’t even the fact of professional versus amateur writing.  Many of us are professional writers in that our jobs involve a great deal of writing, across a range of genres everyday, and we get paid to do that work. 

Oona reads from Flight and we remember the pleasure of being told a story.  I have people in my life who are fluent readers, who ask to be read to, sometimes only to correct you or to remind you that you’ve missed a bit: ‘You forgot the ‘great’, ‘In the “great” green room there was a telephone …’  These stories are known by heart and yet there is a longing to hear them.

We stop short of putting our heads on the desk and listen to a story of place and displacement.  Preceding the reading, Oona tells us of how much place means to her; her American accent signals that she is not from here though she is settled in Ireland.  Her remarks remind me how little I think of place except maybe in terms of how comfortable it is.  Place returns throughout the week, chiming at regular intervals, calling us to stay, compelling us to leave.

Oona talks of writing processes and how the ways into creative writing can equally lead us into academic texts.  She confides in the group her love for creative writing and how it works alongside her achievements in academic publishing.  She notes how she wasn’t swayed by the temptation of getting published at all costs and how she maintained the integrity of waiting nearly 11 years to see her book in print.  I am reassured in all kinds of ways.

We are so grateful for Oona’s time.

We continue the day, moving from a focus on creative writing to one on academic writing with Mick’s demo.  Mick works in further education (FE), a sector with great diversity.  He valiantly tries to explain how FE works: I am sitting at the back wondering how he will spell out what for me are indecipherable acronyms let alone describe the sector.

Mick begins his demo reminding us of the need for silliness.  We create hybrid animals of our own invention; we draw them and give them a name.  Mick is unembarrassed sharing with us his elephantorse; its interpretation benefits much from its labelling as elephathorse.  From his surreal pachyderm, Mick continues his demo which involves the collaborative writing of an essay type answer to a question about ICT.  We are in groups of 4 and we brainstorm a part of the answer.  Each group focuses on one thing and when we have worked on it for some time our ideas are recorded on the white board under different headings.  We discuss them and then in our groups we each take a section, a group of ideas under a heading and we freewrite a paragraph.  We share these with each other within our group. 

Two features of the demo that appeal to me are the fact that we answer the essay collaboratively and that we begin with what we know in order to make our case.  We start trying to make an argument, we write a draft of what it could look like, and then we explore where its potential lies, what direction we want to take it in, what areas we need to explain further and particularly what evidence we need to find in order to back up our claims.  I have taught a lot of academic writing classes but I’ve never used this exact approach; I add it, appreciatively, to my portfolio and plan to use it in the coming academic year.

I make an indiscriminate gift of a signed copy of Flight to Mick who has done such a good job. He is chuffed J

After lunch Catherine brings us back to primary school with her demo.  We are asked to think as though we are in primary school.  We are given no further instruction.  I see myself first in junior infants but then in sixth class, not in the main building but in the convent itself.  The convent has scented parquet floors covered haphazardly with barely-there rugs that slide along the polished surface.  When you come up the steps and through the too-small door, if you take a regretfully short run at it you can hit the rug just right, and it takes you whooshing down past the reception room door, up over the saddle board until you are stopped by an upright piano in the hall next to the entrance to the parlour. 

The group seems to love this exercise; there is eagerness to share our young voices.  There is something low risk about speaking as we were; how we can’t really be blamed for getting anything wrong if we are using our primary school voice.  This voice is not expected to be sophisticated and error-free. 

Catherine then shares a beautiful illustration with us.  It is of a mouse, on steps to reach a Belfast sink in a room that Deirdre describes as the kitchen of a PhD candidate, 2 months from submission.  It is chaotic.  We are to write about what’s in the picture; what do we see.  We are then to consider what happened before and what is to come.  We are learning about sequencing in a story and we are taken with the idea.

The two demos are wonderful.  They are so different and yet we can see how we can take elements from them and repurpose them for our context.

We leave the Library at the end of the day having enjoyed the visit.  Day 4 takes us over the hump of the week and back to the north campus.

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